The United States and more than a dozen Pacific island nations vowed to strengthen their partnership in a declaration released on Thursday.
US President Joe Biden told the nations that Washington was committed to increasing its presence in the region amid growing concern about China's growing military and economic
Leaders from Fiji, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, the Cook Islands, French Polynesia, and New Caledonia were attending the two-day summit that started on Wednesday.
Vanuatu and Nauru sent representatives, and Australia, New Zealand, and the secretary-general of the Pacific Island Forum sent observers, said the White House.
"Pacific leaders welcome the United States' commitment to enhance its engagement, including by expanding its diplomatic presence, the ties between our peoples, and US development
cooperation across the region," the declaration said.
Biden underlines Washington's interest
The US president said he wanted to show an "enduring commitment," and added: "The security of America, quite frankly, and the world depends on your security."
"A great deal of history of our world is going to be written in the Indo-Pacific over the coming years and decades. And the Pacific Islands are a critical voice in shaping the future, and that's why my administration has made it a priority to strengthen our partnership with your countries," he said at the summit held in Washington DC.
The US administration unveiled an outline of its plan to assist Pacific leaders on issues like climate change, maritime security, and protecting the area from overfishing. The US said it would add $810 million (€826 million) in new aid for Pacific Island nations over the next decade, including $130 million (€132.5 million) on efforts to stymie the impacts of climate change.
The Biden administration also plans to ask Congress to appropriate $600 million over 10 years to support economic development, promote climate resilience efforts for Pacific fisheries and so on.
The Marshall Islands suspended talks to renew its security partnership with the US this month, due to the longstanding impact of US nuclear testing in the area about 70 years ago.
The US also plans to establish a regional mission of the US Agency for International Development in Suva, Fiji, and announced plans to open embassies in the Solomon Islands, Tonga and Kiribati.
The US also said it plans to recognize Cook Islands and Niue as sovereign states after "appropriate consultations."
The US is trying to grow its presence in the region to counter Beijing's influence in the region. The White House said that US inattentiveness toward the region since the end of the Cold War has left an opening for Beijing to assert its influence there.
The summit was announced this month just days after the Solomon Islands asked the US and Britain to not send naval vessels until approval processes are overhauled. The Solomon Islands and China signed a new security deal in April.
At the summit, Pacific leaders also met with US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
tg/ (AP, Reuters)